Coping with the loss of a loved one can be one of the most trying times of your life. When another person or company causes your family member’s death by negligence or misconduct, you may have the legal right to file a wrongful death lawsuit to seek financial compensation for the loss of your loved one. Wrongful death laws, which vary from state to state, allow the surviving spouse, children, and/or other dependents or beneficiaries of the deceased to recover monetary damages to help alleviate the financial burden that you and your family may experience from a family member’s unexpected death.

The Wrongful Death Statute in Massachusetts

Massachusetts law requires “the executor or administrator of the deceased” to file the wrongful death lawsuit in court. Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 229, § 2. The executor is the person named in the will of the deceased who is responsible for paying the deceased’s final debts and handling any other estate matters. If the deceased did not leave a will, the family may select an administrator to handle such estate matters.

The Massachusetts Wrongful Death Statute provides, in part:

“A person who (1) by his negligence causes the death of a person, or (2) by willful, wanton or reckless act causes the death of a person under such circumstances that the deceased could have recovered damages for personal injuries if his death had not resulted, or…(5) is responsible for a breach of warranty…which results in injury to a person that causes death, shall be liable in damages in the amount of: (1) the fair monetary value of the decedent to the persons entitled to receive the damages recovered…including but not limited to compensation for the loss of the reasonably expected net income, services, protection, care, assistance, society, companionship, comfort, guidance, counsel, and advice of the decedent to the persons entitled to the damages recovered; (2) the reasonable funeral and burial expenses of the decedent; (3) punitive damages in an amount of not less than five thousand dollars in such case as the decedent’s death was caused by the malicious, willful, wanton or reckless conduct of the defendant or by the gross negligence of the defendant…”

Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 229, § 2.

Compensatory Damages

Each state allows the heirs of a family to file a wrongful death lawsuit in the event of another party’s negligence causing the death of a loved one. Factors that courts in Massachusetts and other states typically consider when determining damages on a case-by-case basis may include:

  • The age and health of the deceased
  • The amount of money the deceased could reasonably be expected to have earned in his or her lifetime
  • Loss of the services, protection, care, assistance, society, companionship, comfort, guidance, counsel, and advice the deceased would have provided to family members
  • The degree to which survivors were financially dependent on the deceased
  • Reasonable expenses incurred by survivors for funeral and burial costs

While no amount of financial payment can ever compensate for the untimely loss of a loved one, being financially secure in your future and the comfort of bringing responsible parties to justice can provide a sense of closure and security to survivors.

Punitive Damages

Punitive damages are intended to punish the grossly negligent or reckless company or person for their bad conduct in causing your family member’s death. Unlike damages for lost income, companionship, and funeral and burial expenses, which are meant to compensate the family for the loss, the purpose of punitive damages is to punish egregious conduct and send a message to others that the law does not tolerate such conduct.

The availability of punitive damages varies from state to state. In Massachusetts, punitive damages may be available in a wrongful death lawsuit if your attorney can prove your family member’s death was caused by “malicious, willful, wanton or reckless conduct…or by…gross negligence…”

Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 229, § 2.

Time Limits for Filing a Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Often, families who lose a loved one may feel too overwhelmed to focus on pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit. During your grieving period, thinking about a wrongful death lawsuit may not seem urgent, but there are important reasons to take legal action without delay. Most importantly, wrongful death cases must be filed within a specific time period or you risk losing your right to seek financial compensation.

A statute of limitations is a law that sets a deadline for filing a particular claim, such as a wrongful death lawsuit. Statutes of limitation for wrongful death lawsuits vary from state to state.

In Massachusetts, your family must file a wrongful death claim within three years from your family member’s date of death or “from the date when the deceased’s executor or administrator knew, or in the exercise of reasonable diligence, should have known of the factual basis for a cause of action.” Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 229, § 2. Depending on your situation, your legal rights may be barred by the statute of limitations if you fail to act in a timely manner.

It is important to consult with a knowledgeable and experienced wrongful death attorney to make sure your potential wrongful death lawsuit can be timely reviewed, prepared, and filed before the deadline. Do not delay!

Duffy Law has helped clients in Greater Boston, Boston’s North Shore, and throughout Massachusetts to maximize the monetary damages you receive for the loss of your loved one. Contact us today for a free consultation on your potential wrongful death claim.

The right lawyer makes all the difference.